Two years ago my wife and I decided on Forest Lawn as the place to build our family. We were pregnant and looking to buy our first home together. Initially, I was skeptical of the location based on the reputation the community had, but the reality of the neighbourhood was significantly different than what I had expected.
I love Forest Lawn
I have found Forest Lawn to be one of the best neighbourhoods I have lived in here in Calgary, for many reasons. There are many great shops, local businesses, amazing food, and a diverse blend of cultures all coming together to make Forest Lawn feel like a small town in a big city.
The proximity to downtown is great and with the construction work underway on 17 Avenue and the vision for the corridor from the BRZ/International Ave and the City of Calgary, I found that there are only a few things that needed to change to make Forest Lawn live up to its potential.
Before you complain, volunteer
One thing was that it needed to be physically cleaned up.
I had decided that I wanted to get involved in my community and I was able to get in touch with the Forest Lawn Community Association. I offered my services to help in anyway and I was informed about a community clean-up the FLCA was hosting. I offered to design the flyers, print and distribute them.
One of the aspects of the clean-up was that not all residents were able to move their garbage or recyclables to the location. We would need to find some volunteers to pick up the materials from any residents that required it. This made me think, if we had to pick up the garbage, we should just be dropping it at the landfill. If we were able to get access to the landfill, I could use that access to clean up the rest of the neighbourhood.
I eventually elaborated on the idea until it developed into a project. I plan and implement projects every day in my line of work and it only seemed natural to apply the same formula to this project. I set up the goals for the project, expected outcomes, and a plan of action to have it accomplished.
Planning was essential
The first step was organizing a way to remove as much garbage as possible and where it would go. I contacted the City’s Waste and recycling division and sent the director my plan of action and asked for 3 days of access at no charge to remove the debris. I then tried to find a resource to fund the operation.
I received notification back from Waste and Recycling Services that they would be happy to be a part of the project. Although they weren’t sure about how they were going to go about structuring it as it was a new initiative.
Funding on the other hand was a much more difficult aspect as there wasn’t an operating body that would be able to fund the project, for one reason or another. (Starting in late 2018, anyone with an idea to help their community can apply for funding through the GFL Small Grants Committee).
Because we had the backing of Waste and Recycling Services, and the support of Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra and his team, I decided to fund the project.
The next difficult step was to find volunteers. I made the rounds through my friends and family and had confirmation from many of them for at least a few hours over the weekend and that was a good enough start.
I then approached several businesses, not-for-profits and social program directors in the neighbourhood. Many said they were unable to help or didn’t have the resources and made recommendations to other places or people. When I approached Foothills Landscaping, a long-time member of the Forest Lawn community, they volunteered. They offered the project two vehicles, if they could find volunteers to run them from within the company. The President of Foothills landscaping, George, and another great volunteer, Roy, stepped up and drove the trucks and helped pick up the waste scattered through the alleys.
I organized the teams so that we could have the maximum impact, giving each crew a set of laneways to clean-up. Because of our lack of resources, we really needed to be efficient in how we used them, so planning was a key element to achieving success.
The project was a huge success. By the end of the 3 days we had accomplished quite a lot and made a big impact on the aesthetics, safety and pride of the community.
21,840 Lbs of waste
23 Trips to the landfill
72.5 Hours of labour
$314.02 Operating expenses
$0.0144 – Cost per LBS
301.24 LBS per hour worked
What we encountered
Some of the most common things we came across were couches and mattresses, we also often had to clean up ripped open garbage bags or overturned black bins.
We did have to call the Calgary Fire Department to come out to two scenes while we were on the clean up. We had come across several needles in various locations and one particular area with roughly 50 needles that needed to be cleaned up. While it wasn’t nice coming across those, we were very happy to be able to remove them from the neighbourhood and create a safer space for everyone.
One of the best outcomes of this project, outside of the intended goals, was the communication with the community. They were so happy to see that someone was helping the community and cleaning up what everyone had seen as a major problem.
We were thanked by many of the residents and many of them had questions as to why we were doing it, and who we were hired by. I think that many of them were shocked that someone could just take it upon themselves to fix a problem.
If one lesson is learned from this, I hope it is that ever citizen, every individual has the power to make positive change. You don’t have to set up a whole program or clean up an entire community. You can volunteer a few hours at your local community association, pick up garbage as you walk down the street, cut your neighbours grass or shovel someone’s walkway. Everyone has the power to affect change in their community.
I would like to thank all of the 9 volunteers;
Perry, Chris, Dwayne, Pete, Allan, Steve, Roy, George and Bill.
I would also like to thank supporters of the project;
Mike Haines, Rick Valdarchi, and Je Fei Shi from Waste and Recycling Services. 12 Community Safety Initiative. BRZ / International Avenue. As well as Gian-Carlo Carra and his staff.
If you or someone you know would like to become active in your community, a great way to start is by joining your local Community Association.